Staff at ORT South Africa lit candles and shared their feelings in a moment of mutual support, a microcosm of the mourning and shock that has swept the country on the news of Nelson Mandela’s death. “We are white, black, with a variety of outlooks and social backgrounds and Mandela meant something different to each of us,”? said ORT South Africa CEO Ariellah Rosenberg. “The unity and forgiveness and the compassion we saw this morning is his legacy.”?
Ms Rosenberg offered condolences to Mandela’s family on behalf of the organisation’s National Executive Committee, staff and volunteers.
“He will be remembered for his humanity, integrity, humility, compassion and leadership. South Africa and the world are mourning his loss but his legacy will live on,”? she said, adding that ORT was committed to living up to his vision of education as a weapon which can change the world by breaking the cycle of poverty.
She remembered that Mandela had attended the inaugural graduation ceremony at ORT STEP (now ORT-Tech), the arm of ORT South Africa which trains educators in the teaching of maths, science and technology.
“When he spoke at ORT STEP in 1996 he said it was an historical moment. We definitely lived his vision for education and we will live it further in training, in working with teachers, in enterprise development, in all the work we do here to create a better South Africa,”? she said.
President Mandela told the graduation ceremony: “The initiative is making an imaginative and far-reaching contribution to [creating a system that meets South Africa’s needs], helping open doors that have been closed to most of our people. Like all broad changes sweeping our society towards a better life for all, this drive to boost our technology and science education is based on partnership – a partnership of educators, business and government.”?
ORT SA Honorary Life President Martin Behr paid tribute to Mandela: “He was a magnificent person, deeply loved and admired by everyone no matter what persuasion you were. He had a magnetism and presence and ability to understand the feelings of the past and put them behind him and work towards a future where everyone worked for the mutual benefit of this country.”?
Mr Behr, who is Chairman of World ORT’s Audit and Risk Committee, was at the ORT STEP graduation ceremony addressed by Mandela.
“He encouraged us at the time by what he said. South Africa is still suffering under the legacy of differentiated education and the deficit shows in the teachers. We decided five years ago to focus on teachers at a primary level and empowering them so that they are ahead of their students in technology we are doing something which is part of Mandela’s legacy,”? he said.
Since that graduation ceremony, ORT South Africa has broadened its teacher training from technology to include also maths and science. The organisation is currently working in 250 schools where 22,000 students are taught by ORT-trained teachers. And each year, ORT SA trains nearly 600 teachers. In addition, the organisation’s ORT JET and Geared for Life programmes have helped 615 small businesses and trained 350 people in business skills and given 250 teenagers post-matriculation skills.
Robyn Smookler, ORT SA’s Women’s Empowerment Division Manager, was among 40 people who last week swam the 7.5km from Robben Island, where Mandela was imprisoned for 20 years, to the mainland to raise money for the organisation’s Geared for Life programme.
She posted on Facebook: “Today is not an easy day to be outside of South Africa. Today, we come together in unity, to celebrate the life of one of the finest characters of our time “ﾓ may his soul rest in peace. I feel like I need to be in my country with my people. But then I remind myself that soon I will be waking up in New York and visiting the Ohel of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. We are always where we are for a reason and I think the profound lesson of today is the enormity of the impact that one human being can have to change this world for the good. Let us all give ourselves the permission to shine, as we were born to do… Nkosi sikeleli Africa.”?